Tuesday, January 12, 2021

U.S. puts Cuba on terrorism list (Jan. 12, 2021)

 The U.S. State Department designated Cuba as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism for repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbor to terrorists," yesterday. The move, coming just a week before U.S. president-elect Joe Biden takes office, caps four years of escalating measures against Cuba by President Donald Trump, reports the Miami Herald. The designation will hamper the incoming administration's plan to re-thaw relations with Cuba. Biden had promised on the campaign trail to return to the normalization carried out by the Obama administration.

U.S. sanctions against Cuba are already so high that the current move will not have a significant immediate impact for U.S. entities, but removing Cuba from the list, which includes only three other nations: Iran, North Korea and Syria, is a bureaucratic process that will take months. (See post for Jan. 4.) Trump administration sanctions against Cuba, the harshest in decades, have contributed to a profound economic crisis in Cuba. The new terrorism label could hinder commercial deals with third countries that Cuba relies on to import essential goods and deter foreign investment in the country's private sector, reports the Washington Post.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited Cuba’s hosting of 10 Colombian rebel leaders, along with a few American fugitives wanted for crimes committed in the 1970s, and Cuba’s support for Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro. The decision was made by the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and not its Counterterrorism Bureau, which would typically play a central role in such a decision, reports the New York Times

American University professor Philip Brenner, who specializes in U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba and other Latin American countries, told The Hill that a Biden reversal of a Cuba terrorist sponsor designation would signal an internal review, in which intelligence experts would likely not find enough evidence of Cuba directly supporting terrorist actions. 

Few U.S, allies believe Cuba remains a sponsor of international terrorism, notes the Associated Press. Many reject the definition based on support for Maduro, or reject claims that Cuban authorities are bankrolling or masterminding international terrorist attacks. 

The decision is controversial within the U.S. as well. Senator Patrick Leahy blasted Pompeo’s “blatantly politicized designation” that “makes a mockery of what had been a credible, objective measure of a foreign government’s active support for terrorism.” Experts say the Trump administration's move has more to do with national politics than diplomacy, it is a reward for Florida's Cuban and Latino voters. Biden will face pushback from Republicans if he attempts to rollback sanctions against Cuba.

“These are trumped up charges,” Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House told the Guardian. “Terrorism as an international definition is committing acts of violence against unarmed civilians intended to frighten the population. Cuba doesn’t do that. Yes, it represses its own people – but so does Saudi Arabia.”

The U.S. stance also ignores Cuba's key role in ending Colombia's civil war, work applauded by the Obama administration, notes CNN. Indeed, Cuba's refusal to hand over 10 leaders of the Cuban ELN is due to its role as a guarantor in peace talks between the guerrilla group and the Colombian government, which fell apart in the wake of a January 2019 attack on a police training school in Bogotá, reports the Washington Post.

The public designation could further “poison” the atmosphere of bilateral relations, “but it would not significantly delay President Biden from re-engaging with Cuba,” William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, told the Miami Herald.

More Cuba
  • Cuba is partnering with Iran to produce a Covid-19 vaccine developed by scientists on the island, the latest example of how the two U.S.-sanctioned nations are building closer ties, reports the Miami Herald. Cuba announced Friday that it transfer the technology for its most advanced coronavirus vaccine candidate and carry out last-stage clinical trials of the shot in Iran, reports Reuters.
News Briefs

  • Latin America should prepare for even more coronavirus spread -- new variants mean some countries could see yet another doubling of new cases, warns the Latin America Risk Report.
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has emerged as a lynchpin in the country's descent into a narco-state, according to InSight Crime. New filings by U.S. federal prosecutors add to a growing body of evidence linking JOH to drug traffickers over the course of his political career. (See yesterday's post.) The incoming U.S. Biden administration could leverage the accusations to strengthen its ambitious anti-corruption agenda in Central America, argues InSight Crime.
  • The end of the opposition-led National Assembly's mandate in Venezuela marks the culmination of five years in which significant state violence has accompanied the exhaustion of potential avenues of exit for the country's crisis, writes Alberto Barrera Tyszka in the New York Times Español. "For most Venezuelans, hit hard by the crisis, the future is now more uncertain and more poor: there are no more alternatives." (See Jan. 5's post.)
  • Latin America is a key region for the incoming U.S. Biden administration's climate agenda, argues Lisa Viscidi in a New York Times op-ed. Potential policies to focus on are clean energy exports and lending to support clean energy in Latin America, she writes. Also support for climate resilience in the Caribbean and Central America, and fighting deforestation in the Amazon.
  • Environmental issues will likely be a major point of conflict between the Biden administration and Brazil. More broadly, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is sticking to his political idol, outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump -- despite the likely significant diplomatic costs. "Bolsonaro seems ready — even eager — to accept isolation," though it is unclear his political base will embrace the costs, writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly.
  • The Bolsonaro administration's rollback of environmental protections are a huge concern for conservationists. Brazil’s main environmental enforcement agency, Ibama, handed out 20% fewer fines in 2020, according to the Climate Observatory campaign group. (Reuters)
  • Some Brazilians are concerned that U.S. conspiracy-fueled riots are a harbinger of Brazil's future in relation to the 2022 presidential elections, reports the Huffington Post.
  • Bolivian authorities said they identified seven alleged perpetrators of the 2019 Sacaba massacre that took place in Cochabamba. They must testify before the Public Prosecutor's Office of La Paz, reports Telesur.
  • Guatemalan and Honduran soldiers will be deployed to prevent new U.S.-bound migrant caravans from advancing, reports Reuters.

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